A Christmas collaboration with Robby Duguay! He made some awesome game-meets-Christmas-carol music in his album called 12 GBs of Christmas, and he asked me to create some Final Fantasy VII inspired art! I went with a really simple scene featuring Aeris and completed it within a few days. It’s low poly and low framerate, just like FFVII! Rendered in UE4.


The goals for this project was to create a 3D showcase of a future mall’s realty development, with seamless visibility between exteriors and interiors, with beautifully realistic and polished next-generation art. It is showcased on high-resolution touch-screen devices for a fully-featured real estate experience.
My contributions to this project includes:

  • Lead in research and development for engine pipeline for a large-scale, fully visible exterior to interior realistic rendering
  • Collaborated with art director, 3D artists, and programmer to set standards and pipeline. Particularly, creating tutorials and directing meetings on the Maya-Max to Unreal engine pipeline with modellers and stakeholders who are unfamiliar with the game production pipeline
  • Quality control of all art assets from Maya/Max into Unreal and their respective textures
  • One-person complete assembly of Maya/Max 3D assets from modellers into Unreal, and transferring all asset files from UDK to Unreal Engine 4 mid-project. Over 4,000+ assets managed, organized in hierarchy, placed and dressed in level build, checked for mesh, texture, lighting and shader quality. I was the key content manager for the final production build in conjunction with programmer
  • Creation of the majority of in-Engine shaders, including glass shaders, water shaders, car shaders, sky shader, animated ad shaders, and architectural shaders
  • Spearheaded prototyping for lighting, camera controllers for a touch-screen interface, and UI
  • Additional modelling, texturing, and clean-up work for store-fronts, cars, and light-map work for the base architecture
  • Producer for internal communication for quality control and pipeline standards, and communication to different stakeholders, including clients, and showcase opportunities for the team


RCM_SEntFountain_01_ed RCM_SEnt_BambooCourt RCM_NightMarket_02 RCM_NEnt_ExteriorOverview RCM_LilacHall RCM_ForestCourt_02_ed RCM_FoodCourt_Outside_03
SEnt_CarShowcase RCM_WEnt_StoreInt_02 RCM_WEnt_Ads01


Babel has been an interesting process lately because I am going back to the drawing board for a number of design considerations, in order to better create a match between storytelling and immersion. Script writing continues to be an iterative process, which helps articulate the scope of the game, since it is narrative-driven. There will continue to be more prototyping to see what works best!

I’ve been looking at different interfaces, but also find myself enjoying some of the beautiful rendering and shader tools available in Unreal 4!

So hey, I’m one step closer to being a triple-threat model: 3D modeler, photographic model, business modeler.

All joking aside, I was really nervous about joining up for Lean Startup Machine (LSM) workshop this weekend. Sure, I had read The Lean Startup book by Eric Ries, but to apply it as a group in a concentrated 48-hour workshop series was different than reading up on inspiring methodology. After all, I’m most comfortable when I get to hide behind a book to give me insight to the world.

The moment that I stepped onto Decentral where LSM would headquarter over the course of 48 hours, people who are strangers to me did an elevator pitch of their startup idea, and then we coalesced into groups around the best ones to create a viable product-market fit. That’s the goal. And the process is something that would otherwise take businesses a few months or more: We had to create the Minimal Viable Product and present it in front of a panel of judges within that time. Plus, we had to gather as many interviews and people-based metrics as possible to declare whether or not we actually had a useful product, and not just a product that no one would buy.

Organically finding the startup group whose idea appealed to us. Photograph by Rami Sayar.

Organically finding the startup group whose idea appealed to us. Photo by Rami Sayar.

I was anxiously certain that I would stick out like a sore thumb. A burden. I have no experience whatsoever in business, finance, accounting, nor even entrepreneurship. Instead, I have a background in academic humanities theory, 2D and 3D visual arts, game engines, and a tendency towards esoteric and tangential conversations. None of them felt like they translate very well to Lean entrepreneurship. But the tipping point is this: There’s no guarantee that people can derive value (emotional, intellectual and/or spiritual) from my art, and that’s the scariest proposition that any artist have to deal with. Everything else, like my worry for lack of business experience, pales in comparison to this desire to do something about this productive stagnation.

Also, is there treasure at the end of the rainbow? I’m curious.

Also, is there treasure at the end of the rainbow? I’m curious.

This is how I work: You think that this 3D real-time game scene below looks pretty good? Think again. I can name forty things off the top of my head that’s subpar with it: It’s in an old game engine, so the lighting shaders and occlusion aren’t as great as it can be. The amount of weathering and grime between bed, lamp, walls and floor are unmatched, making it look like they all come from different decades. The 3D effect could pop out more for the tiles. The metal frame is too shiny. The mattress should be lumpier. And so on goes the tunnel vision. Believe me, it’s legitimate, this is how professional artists ought to think. Similarly, too, this carries into my level of discernment and aggressive rigour for creative writing.


Even the perfectionists are wary of this. But you learn to be satisfied with what you’ve got, because inevitably there’s a deadline. And I suppose there’s a reason I’m pretty obsessive about modelling hospital-related assets… P.S.: It’s really hard for me to post the blue comic doodles in this post because they look really unfinished to me. I had a huge internal fight with it the whole way through.

LSM teaches the opposite of this type of behaviour. It’s much more proactive, focusing on asking questions rather than executing based on a particular set of parameters. They’re two divergent ways of creativity with some very contrasting set of goals. If I could summarize one of the key teachings of the Lean mindset, it is to not assume anything about your final (or even preliminary) product, no matter how “cool” you think that it is going to be for your potential customers. It’s about not thinking about the solution right away until you know the problem that you are trying to solve, and who has that sort of problem or is in need of a new benefit and convenience in their lives. Put that way, it’s incredibly empowering because you’re putting something together for a non-abstract “somebody”, not just taking something apart to put together for the sake of the exercise.

I'm pretty sure that this isn't the solution to the puzzle.

I’m pretty sure that this isn’t the solution to the puzzle.

At the same time, it doesn’t mean that it has to negate the personal vision. It’s not a zero-sum game. The most non-abstract “somebody” is myself. And I’m trying to tell myself this, even though I know that it’ll be a psychological fight all the way: Don’t work in isolation. Don’t be the artist who completely forgets to look at the discerning eyes of another person while working on that beast of an oeuvre. For creatives, I believe that there are times when, as we hit a plateau, it seems impossible to move past that “block”. It shouldn’t be that way, because all art pieces and all forms of storytelling are conversational. They’re meant to communicate.

Sometimes we just gotta have a heart-to-head. (Heart, be nice!)

Sometimes we just gotta have a heart-to-head. (Heart, be nice!)

Art is also meant to listen. As Todd Charron explained, “Listening is the willingness to change.” Art is often very much about listening to a broader society in order to cultivate a meaningful reflection of it. So, many of the ideas embedded in LSM itself doesn’t necessarily always have to pertain to customers, but it can work as well for audiences or other receptive learners. Instead of asking people, “Will you buy this”, I can always ask “Is this meaningful to you”, should my key goal privilege cultural and expressive values.

Much of what I’ve learned at LSM is really something indescribable because it is the process of learning for yourself and your team – and learning to fail. What I can say is, I agree with Ramli John when he wrote that “LSM is not a rulebook. It’s a mindset.” And there’s nothing to say that mindsets and pipeline-specific methodologies can’t co-exist together. But it will be an experiment all the way, and many testable hypotheses. It’s where I can’t let too many ideas bubble over without being able to look at the basic chemistry behind it all. Fellow attendee Cherry Rose described it best, and even with a drawing: You start off with a lot of seemingly brilliant ideas, but then you test it and find that you can only take the best, and then layer on new ideas, and keep building and culling. Like layers of sediment.

Bear with me, I'm an Arteeste.

Bear with me, I’m an Arteeste.

The LSM learning would not have been so eagerly appropriated by me for potential use in a non-profit centric mode of production, were it not for the community atmosphere there. I love all the learning and shifting of mindsets at the Lean Startup Machine (LSM) weekend. I have not met a mentor that was not supportive and willing to share their insight, as well as give us the necessary push to move us out of our comfort zone. Everything felt well-paced. There’s almost an “aha, I’m joking”, because the pace was so frenetic and kinetic that made you look back and go, “wow, I didn’t realize I was capable of that”. But the point is that we are capable, and we achieved a lot in those 48 hours.

Is LSM for everyone? Not at all. It’s not a stroll in the park, but more like scaling a mountain. I think some would absorb the value of it much better than others. It’s a draining, sometimes heart-breaking process. It’s like going through an emotional relationship in a compressed timeline. It’s all about facing up to rejections, but also moments of high reward because you know things just clicked. But, most of all, it’s about the willingness to learn and listen. The willingness to help others and to be clairvoyant to the strengths and weaknesses in human nature, of yourself, your team, and of the people that you interview to find your customer base.

Our team picture. We actually had to get out of the building to get real customer responses to our ideas. Photo by Ian Gerald King.

Our team picture. We actually had to get out of the building to get real customer responses to our ideas. Photo by Ian Gerald King.

As a “mountaineer” of LSM this weekend, I think that I really got a glimpse of how different the whole atmosphere of thinking at this strata is. To evaluate my performance through this analogy, I think that I packed fairly light but was not really capable to carrying anyone else’s load. Sometimes my gaze would wander to the faraway vista or the flowers rather than the task at hand. And, while breaks are very necessary, sometimes the tangents strafe away from the goal, even if it was only a few seconds of unrelated discussion. One of my teammates, Joe, was very good at getting me back on track, as he never scolded me when I did not comprehend something. Instead, he led the way by kindly re-enunciating the useful examples, once even with diagrams, thus allowing me to more proactively contribute ideas that are more pertinent.

That’s the other thing: Like scaling a mountain, it takes patience with oneself and with the team. This was something that I think that my team members exemplified well.

I think that, by the end of the week, I had made it to the middle of the mountain. I was looking up at the parts where there are icy slopes and deemed it a bit too scary for myself. I was not able to sell a product to a customer, whether it was product concept or an actual, physical prototype, in order to most truthfully replicate the exchange of value with the early adopter. Mike from my team put forth the Herculean effort to do just that, carrying around 10 pounds of our product to our target market.

If there was one thing I wish that I had discussed more with fellow participants, it is how they learned how to become more comfortable speaking to strangers that they ended up getting some really engaged conversations. Team leader Neil and I did have one case of that where we had a young woman get so excited about our product that she told us what design consideration would work best for her usage. I want to know what would trigger that more, and I will ask for more advice as well as just learn by discovery.

Many useful perspectives to scale a mountain.

Many useful perspectives to scale a mountain.

I had asked the question of whether or not the Lean mindset can be applied to “art” projects. MC and Mentor Jason Cheong-Kee-You offered me the open-ended response: When we are designing startups at LSM, much of it privileges text and speech. What has yet to be explored is the power of visual imagery and interaction, both of which game-making exemplify. How we can create simple and meaningful experiences out of those two additional modes to connect with potential audiences is a very relevant realm to explore. And the neatest tidbit? These experiences do not need to be complicated in order for it to be a testable experiment.

To close off, I subtitled this blog post as a “Net-Work of Possibilities” because it really is about understanding how our work and our solutions are tied to a network of different groups of people, whether they are consumers, audiences or developers, and what they each need. Cast too wide of a net, and the product that you have spent all your energies building might be something that is not useful to anyone, and thus not useful to a company. But at the heart of it, it is also about motivation and creation, and thus the core observation and organization skills enhanced through LSM can be adapted through so many kinds of projects, even when maximizing monetary gains is not its primary goal.


Thank you to all those who made the weekend possible: Mentors Jason Cheong-Kee-YouIan Gerald King, Robert Mackenzie, Nick Piquard, Todd Charron, Jane Wang, Rami Sayar, and many others! Thank you also to my team Neil Lachapelle, Mike Imeson, and Joe Goski, whose creative energies are really inspiring! Thanks also to fellow participants Cherry Rose, Padraig O’Shea, Sergey Kalnish, Andrew Witchell, David Lewis, Shuai Zhong, Ashlam Abowath, Fahad Khan, Juan Galt and numerous others for welcoming the sharing of ideas! Hope to meet up with you all again to continue such creative conversations.
Scar Tissue Narrative Interactive Story Video game presentation at Dames Making Games, Tanya Kan and Mikki Benaglia

While buried with other work obligations, I was really pleased to have the chance to work with some really talented people at this year’s TOJam 9, the largest game jam in Toronto. For the uninitiated, it means that participants in teams of their choosing have 48 hours the weekend of April 25 to 27 to create a game from start to finish. For TOJam, there was a great creative atmosphere of students, aficionados, and professional game developers all collaborating together. The point is to try something new, or work with a new team, to put together a playable prototype. If it doesn’t work, it’s okay! It’d still be a productive weekend of experimentation.

Platform art by Mikki Benaglia

We created a team with Eric Roberts as Programmer, Oskar Pruski as Composer/Sound Designer/Artist, Mikki Benaglia as Artist, and me, Tanya Kan as Designer/Writer/Artist. Because Eric Roberts has a lot of experience with 2D games, I was inspired to try my hand at designing a 2D game as well. He told me to stick with my strengths, which is writing and art direction, while I am simultaneously trying something new. I feel like this is a great advice for many jammers, especially for those, like myself, who have not played the designer/producer role under a jam’s time constraints. As such, I designed an interactive novel-platformer game hybrid, under Eric’s advice. The whole idea is that whatever one player goes through narratively will not be the same experience as another player’s, even if the number of platforms is static.

The story is about a superstar so stressed out by the pressures of her industry (and plastic surgery) that she skips in and out of time, and creates disarray of her “private” life as a result. The narrative itself has been living with me for some time. It first inception was in my little Twine experiment, Sound is a Spectrum, which is playable (but narratively incomplete) on this site.

Scar Tissue Interactive Game spreadsheet preview of dialogue

As also recommended by TOJam organizers, we came prepared with a list of programming priorities. I also created a spreadsheet of all of the game writing/dialogue and corresponding art assets. I created a Grooveshark playlist of the atmosphere that I was trying to set. On Google Drive, I defined the look of the game with reference images with consultation with Mikki, and then we all tried out these experiments at the jam itself! Eric went with an engine structured around 2D called Godot, currently in beta, as he wanted to test drive it at the jam.

Jam version of the game is available for download on itch.io, but is unfinished:
Scar Tissue as created at TOJam in Godot, programmed by Eric Roberts, designed by Tanya Kan

After the jam, I realized that I quite like the idea behind the game as a free release. As such, Mikki and I have continued to adapt the game. We changed the game engine from Godot to Unity, even though the languages are not compatible, because I am trying my hand at programming for the first time. I went with Unity because I really like the documentation and community that Unity has to address most of my questions, and I know that the Engine is flexible around the development needs of my future games. It was definitely an interesting learning curve to say the least, but not as much of an uphill climb as I feared! The other part is also that I can ask silly, simple questions of my Toronto friends about programming.




Now, for this new version, we have a lot more art assets to augment the story. Each platform is meant to have a different visual design to hint at the story inside each of its collectable dialogue boxes. Mikki designed and illustrated about 2/3rds of the platforms and they inspire me to have better design for those that I am in charge of! We tightened the art style so that it is more unified in the fashion illustration meets Dadaist hybrid. I am also playing around with the inclusion of some harder-to-reach platforms so that we get more narrative variety, and have some great friends to help out with the programming side!


Mikki and I were very kindly invited to present our game at Dames Making Games Speaker Social, where we shared some of our design considerations! It was a fantastic experience, where we received positive and constructive feedback. Thank you DMG and Bento Miso! Here’s the unabridged Powerpoint slides if anyone’s curious.

Update 2015: Scar Tissue is currently on hiatus.

Hi! It’s been fairly quiet here since the New Year because I’ve been working on one of the most challenging and busy contract projects by far, by doing a lot of fundamental in-game engine work. Whenever I can, I have tried to make some spare time for adding to game design concepts, aesthetics and writing fiction. Additionally, I was able to be part of two 48-hr game jams during this time, Toronto Global Game Jam and TOJam, which were both fascinating experiments with some great talents.

Starting late May and early June, I will create more content for this website, including blogging about Canadian game dev projects, events, and communities. I will also talk about international game development, but I will aim to shed light on more Canadian content because we have quite a unique talent pool and very engaging voices that are sometimes not explored by enough people who know about indie games. To that end, I will also redesign the layout of this website so that it is much more comprehensive and content is much easier to find. Ah, maybe even bring my Twitch.tv channel back to life more frequently (though this is the most difficult to schedule in)!

One of the first things that I will cover will be Bit Bazaar Spring Fair at Bento Miso, which showcases Games, Crafts, Zines and good food in conjunction with TCAF. It runs all day Saturday, May 10. Because I am expecting a lot of fantastic content – video, pictures, and lots of excited words – I will update gradually about the cool things from the Fair over the course of this month and early June.  Also because I am, as of writing, in crunch mode.

Line-up for Bit Bazaar on May 10! So excited.

Line-up for Bit Bazaar on May 10! So excited.

I won’t claim that I am an impartial observer in game development. I think that it is hard to, from a practical standpoint, because I am embedded on the production and content creation end. Additionally, I come from a background of cinema studies, and I think it would be a strange thing to not attest any sort of cinphile or mediaphile. I can claim formalism when I commit to it, certainly. But in a blog, I cannot say that I do not love the field of games and new media, and, as such, I think my coverage will be more accurately understood as Editorials. Succinctly, I am of the belief that, when I love something and it is presented as such (ie not under academic rigour), there are emotions involved, and therefore there cannot be an impartiality.

Okay I don't have that many pictures lately, hence the picture from December's massive ice storm at the top. But this one is from February! With lots of the VR Jam participants hanging out at Bento Miso. It's just such fun working with these talents.

Okay I don’t have that many pictures lately, hence the picture from December’s massive ice storm at the top. But this one is from February, when our Oculus VR Jam shirts arrived! With lots of the VR Jam participants hanging out at Bento Miso. It’s just such fun working with these talented and cool folks.

What I can say is that I want to meet friends, new and old, and share good works with a broader audience. I want to give back to the Toronto game dev community that has been so vibrant the past year for me. I want to do that in writing and in vlogs. I want to share some of my joys and the joys of fellow devs, who may or may not have gone on a similar journey as the one that I’m embarking on. With great friendship comes great learning experiences, and so, I hope that it’ll be a positive learning experience, not just for myself, but for everyone: Readers, writers, creators, all.

An engaging storyteller, Will O’Neill from Toronto, has launched his critically acclaimed game, Actual Sunlight, on Steam. Actual Sunlight stares unflinchingly into the heart and mind of a man, Evan Winters, on the throes of his greatest struggle: Of depression, work, and love. Torontonians will find some recognizable and timely allusions to our city that pepper the game. Regularly priced at $4.99, this game is a steal, and a great exploration into indie games that push boundaries and barriers.

Will O’Neill is an invaluable friend of mine, who is full of wisdom in offering prescient advice and support for indie game-making. Although I have not reviewed Actual Sunlight directly, as my biases will show having play-tested the game and being a fan of his work, I will say that it is a game that holds a special place in my heart and needs to reach a wider audience. While his conversation with me focuses on the process of game-making, writing and life (so to not spoil anyone of the game’s narrative), a near-concurrent Twitch live-stream Q&A focuses on the content of depression and hope within the game itself.

Click here to read the transcripts between Will O’Neill and I, published on Indie Game Reviewer!

2013 was a year of growth for me. Painful growth, thorny and weedy and out-of-place.

The start of 2013: I was still coming into my own, still ill at ease with my sense of personal and cultural identity, feeling at odds and far away from home. This was despite that I had found work and rent in my place of birth: Hong Kong.

And then I fell in love with the city, despite my own fresh heartbreak, plus the feeling of hopeless inadequacy without the perception of my grandparents’ generation to guide me through its labyrinthine sociopolitical heritages (unlike them, I have a myopia for war and conflict). I was barely making rent, but my want for independence still played to fit the colourful, liminal spaces. I was breathing in the smog, but also the omniscient lights and the throngs of people from all walks of life. I dared myself to persevere, and by consequence I saw that each neighborhood has a life-beat of its own.

I threw myself into work, of twisting vertices and bones, and setting them to an animation track. Stress tests. I walked out of the office at 9pm for fast food congee and walked back in on a sudden Eureka moment because I lived 5 minutes away, in one of the most condensed metropolitan centres in the world. And, somewhere along the way, the colour palette shifted, like a filter under the cinematographer’s technique. An orange warmth of the hues as I scraped up the Mid-Levels escalator with new friends, local and cosmopolitan, and felt like I could touch that sky that had never seen snow.

Dichotomies exist in all cities. The old and the new. Hong Kong's captured me.

Dichotomies exist in all cities. The old and the new. Hong Kong’s captured me.

I knew, then, that this was what I was meant to do: Observe, fall in love, and tell a story through art and language.

It was a new kind of disquiet when I came back to Toronto in March 2013, five months after I’ve left for Hong Kong. There would still be frost on the ground for another two months. But what was once familiar had a kind of emptiness in gestures, because the person I thought I would always share them with had left me behind. I lost also the kind of crowds and colors that I thought I could hide in as a personally demarcated “foreigner”.

It brought to the forefront of how I am so compelled to re-examine my identity. I have never been more hyper-aware of the ambiguity of my Westernized personality and socialization. It wasn’t a question posed within the walls of academia for once, but in everyday perceptions and conversations. Those missed opportunities for grasping something meaningful about one’s social roles and beliefs, especially. In the case of those who have had their foundations in mainland China, there was such a gap of shared cultural experiences with me as to be a chasm.

Babel is that project about identity. It was born from staring at a mirror shining with naiveté and idealism, and wondering how they’d be lost. It was losing track of language, signs, faces and realities, and gaining it again. Babel is the understanding that many people in a city state goes through this transformation in various ways.

In Hong Kong, I was taking photographs for the express purposes of documenting memory and being able to reproduce it in 3D. For an interactive experience.

In Hong Kong, I was taking photographs for the express purposes of documenting memory and being able to reproduce it in 3D. For an interactive experience.

It’s a work of fiction that aspires to be art. It’s primarily inspired by the many contemporary concerns of an advanced capitalist state where demarcations of East and West are rarely clear. There were many times when I am writing Babel as a script that I had rewritten again, so that the core themes have a deep presence that can be read across multiple tonalities. It’s not until I’d become more embedded in the local game development community and met so many diverse talents in the latter part of 2013 that I have a true confidence that storied experiences can have local flavours can also be universally approachable. I had always known this in theory, but it was different to put into practice as a content producer.

Loss and rediscovery of identities and culture?
That’s lingua franca to everyone.

Where-ever you are, where-ever you’re thinking of: There’s something to be said about loving a place so full of pastiche. A localized cinematic examination, I’ve found, can give such homage to a place as to add to its breathing structures. With the demarcations of light and movement, the artistic compression of a city onto film patch a unique intentionality. And an unspoken intimacy, even if we don’t understand a single line of dialogue.

It’s never going to get easier. In 2014, and in the years to come, the stories I want to create as well as those foisted upon me will only become more textured. The plot will be convoluted. But that’s part of the challenge. That’s part of the hope.